27 December, 2011

"Love Love Love"

Hello dear readers ...

I read the following at Jo Blo (the site for Movie News) and had to comment on it.  Firstly, I want to say how great Jo Blo CONSISTENTLY is, as well as how great one of their leading correspondents is;  Mike Sampson (who wrote this).  It's on the (at press) much controversial replacing of the 'Thor 2' director.  Recently announced (at press time) Alan Taylor will take the reigns.  But I'll let Mr. Sampson tell it --

Patty Jenkins had been hired, at the suggestion of star Natalie Portman, to direct Marvel's THOR 2. But as Jenkins and Marvel had continuing script discussions it became clear that Jenkins, who hasn't directed a film since 2003's MONSTER, was in over her head. So despite Portman's protests, Marvel and Jenkins parted ways and the search for a new director was on. Enter "Game of Thrones."  Marvel was looking at two directors who had been working on the popular HBO series - Alan Taylor and Brian Kirk. Well over the holidays, it was confirmed that Taylor has gotten the gig and will begin directing THOR 2 (which I'm sure will have a fancy subtitle) next year.  How happy that makes Portman, who was reportedly "furious" when Jenkins was fired, remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether Marvel gives a shit. Let's all be honest and admit that the Jane Foster storyline was the least interesting part of the original THOR. More Asgard please.  Another good question to ask regards who the villain will be in THOR 2. Loki will be the main villain in THE AVENGERS and audiences will likely need something fresh for the THOR sequel. Maybe Enchantress?

So there it is, the original post in its entirety.  What I want to chat about very quickly is the comment on the Jane Foster storyline.  That it's the "least interesting part of the original."  While for some viewers it may not have been as exciting as Asgard or the battles on Earth, let's be honest (to use Mr. Sampson's benchmark), IT'S THE ANCHORING OF THE MOVIE.  You want to make a movie about The Civil War ('Gone With The Wind')?  Give it a love story.  You want to make a movie about The Sinking Of A Ship ('Titanic')?  Give it a love story.  You want to make a movie about a (and let's be REALLY honest here) fairly lesser known super hero such as Odin's son?  For God's sake give it something that everyone can relate to, especially the girlfriends that are being dragged to it by their comic-book-loving-boyfriends (and I'M a comic-book-loving-boyfriend).


I can't think of a story that isn't a straight-forward love story that doesn't have a love story.  Why?  BECAUSE WE GET IT.  (To be fair, I'm even considering 'Aliens' which, while "mother-daughter" between Ripley and Newt, is still that bond;  much like 'Field Of Dreams' between father and son.  But that's for a longer article ...)

I'm thinking back to the 'Solaris' commentary with James Cameron and Steven Soderbergh in which they both wax lyrical about being suckers for a good love story (which 'Solaris' CLEARLY is, though I don't want to spoil anything here) ... and how much I'M a sucker for a good love story ... and how aren't we all?


Really, it's the anchor of most movies, and how is that ever a bad thing?  Especially in the case of this "lesser known superhero" (I'm talking outside us fans) in which HOW CAN WE NOT have a love story between a god and human;  not just as an anchor for the audience to the comic, but, just as significantly, God to Earth?  He needs to care about this "lesser realm."  Why?

'Cause she smiled at him.

And really, guys, isn't it ALWAYS as simple as that?

As I say, I don't want to take anything away from Jo Blo or Mike Sampson, as they consistenly do great work.  I just read that and had to say, "Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa, shut the front door."  'Cause -- God, I don't want to sound cheesy here, but -- love IS the anchor.  Especially in story;  poetry, song, story, film, tv, all of it.  Lose that?  Lose your audience.  And, let's be honest here once more:  isn't it our audience for whom we all write?

God, even The Beatles wrote, "Love love love."  Now you want to argue with The Beatles?

14 June, 2011

The Great Buffy Rewatch: Something Blue

Let's get right into it.

w Tracey Forbes
d Nick Marck

               As mentioned in the Pangs Write-Up, this ep caps the big Angel crossover, Buffy mentioning to Willow she only saw him in L.A. for five minutes (yep, sniffle for those of you who know).  And as mentioned (while I Will Remember You is great) I feel, overall, The Crossover could have been bigger (at least Angel's impact in Sunnydale).  Though I also have to imagine Whedon & Co were trying to give the fans a little Crossover Love while --  in this first "separate season" --  indeed keeping the shows their own.  So perhaps we just write it off as “more of The Change.”  Buffy has to move on, so that her relationship with Riley can evolve, and fair enough.  
                The biggest change I realized in watching these episodes again (primarily Pangs and Something Blue) is this is where we begin to love Spike
               We’ve always loved to hate Spike, but these are the two eps in which Whedon & Co ingratiate him to The Scoobies and, more significantly, to us The Audience.  Whedon himself says (I’m paraphrasing), “When we lost Cordelia to Angel, we needed someone to fill that saying-what-we’re-all-thinking hole, and Spike does that beautifully.”  So he was brought back.  Of course, to give him those Cordelia moments, and not have him back just to wage war on Buffy, he had to get into the group, hence the implant (introduced in Pangs), being held captive at Giles’, and his (still biting but) more comedic handling.
               Speaking of The Comedy, Ms. Forbes handles it very well here;  in most people’s opinion getting a tabula rasa after her Beer Bad (which, if for nothing else, I personally love just for the moment where Buffy bonks the guy on the head at the end).  Anyway, take a look at this Forbes Wit --  

Giles is blind?

Xander goes to Giles, waves his hands wildly in front of Giles' face.
Stop whatever you're doing. You smell like fruit roll-ups.

This is the crack team that foils my every plan?

Spike's right. We have to get organized.

Why are you holding hands?

Xander turns, eyes them.
They have to hear it sooner or later...

Spike and I are getting married.

(to Giles)
How? What? How?

Three excellent questions.

Buffy and Spike kiss, big time.
(off this)
Can I be blind too?

                As I wrote in The Zeppo how much I love What Ifs, this too has that feel.  Some have said this Ep feels like Season 1’s Nightmares, specifically in which (in that) Giles can no longer read, and everyone faces their own demons, but where I think Whedon & Co get away with it is in playing the comedy instead of rehashing a monster-of-the-week.[i]
Aaaaand as I have the soft spot for Xander, I have to point out here that he’s the one to figure out what’s going on, underlining just how close he and Willow are.[ii]
All in all, I think these three Eps playout quite nicely;  especially in repeated viewings when --  this goes for Season 4 as a whole --  you’re not just coming off the Three Seasons of whirlwind Buffy/Angel Storyline and can watch them for their own merit.  I hope you’re enjoying Season 4 and have enjoyed these three Eps’ mostly comedic breather.  
Because what comes next is -- wonderfully -- anything but.

                                                                                 # # #

[i]  Whereas, for my money, it isn't put to as good a use when comparing Season 1's Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight Vs Season 6’s Gone.
[ii] Foreshadowing the Season 6 end.  Speaking of, do take note of D’Hoffryn inviting Willow to join his Merry Men, foreshadowing just how powerful she is, and will become.

The Great Buffy Rewatch: Pangs


             We all loved seeing "Written & Directed by Joss Whedon" pop up in the Opening Credits (remember, Buffy's original run was before easy -- certainly in-depth, certainly ahead of airing -- Internet access) but I have to say, more so than most of the Writers in The Whedonverse, I tend to gravitate toward Ms. Espenson.  While Whedon himself hits us with The Big Ones, natch, Ms. Espenson tends to bring the funny, the off-kilter, and I often list more of hers under “personal faves.”
              Here she takes on Turkey Day.

w Jane Espenson
d Michael Lange

              Pangs is bitter-sweet.  On the one hand, given as big a Buffy/Angel fan that I am (that is their relationship as opposed to Buffy/Riley)  [i]  I was thrilled to hear we were getting our first crossover (after Angel left to L.A.).  Angel’s The Bachelor Party ends with Doyle having a vision of Buffy in danger, Angel returns to Sunnydale here, Buffy visits L.A. in Angel’s I Will Remember You, and it’s capped in Something Blue.  But I can’t help but feel “Angel’s return to Sunnydale” should have been bigger – later in the season? – than for a primarily comedic episode such as this.  [ii]  Now, on the other hand, as well as Ms. Espenson handles this episode – especially with The Funny – what could have been a monster-of-the-week peppered by Indian-Vs-Native-American soapboxing holds up really well, even after multiple viewings.
            The His Girl Friday banter of Giles and Willow arguing over that very “Vs” is really well written, from both sides, and is (almost) as funny as its counterpoint:  Buffy just wanting to have a nice Thanksgiving dinner.  There are great momens throughout like --

This isn't a Western, Buffy!  We're not at Fort... Giles,
with the cavalry coming to save us!  It's one lonely and
oppressed warrior guy who's just trying to --

-- kill a lot of people?

I didn't say he was right...

Will, you know how bad I feel.  This is eating me up --
(to Anya, who holds up the bottle of brandy)
-- a quarter cup, and let it simmer --
(to Willow, as Anya goes back)
-- but even though it's hard, we have to end this. Yes,
he's been wronged, and I personally would be ready to

Oh, someone put a stake in me!

            Capitalized by the great end with all of them at the table, even tied-to-the-chair Spike as returned-from-Syphillis Xander, loveable old Xander, blurts out that Angel was there. 

                                                                                 # # #

[i]  Or eventually Buffy/Spike
[ii] Though I Will Remember You is anything but comedic, and one of the really great tortured romance episodes in The Whedonverse.

The Great Buffy Rewatch: The Initiative



                  These three posts -- The Initiative, Pangs and Something Blue -- are another part of Nikki Stafford's The Great Buffy Rewatch on her Blog, Nik At Nite;  which, as the Buffy fan I am, I was honored to be a part.  Like the first three I did -- The Zeppo, Bad Girls and Consequences -- these will be broken into three posts, one per episode, with Spoilers as Endnotes.

I promised Nikki I’d keep this brief. 
My last entry – The Zeppo, Bad Girls and Consequences – ran nearly 6,000 words (total), longer than most, but she was kind enough to post as-is, and I do thank her for that.  It didn’t feel long (to me, hope you agree) but I did promise to keep this one around 1,500 (total). 
I went back and looked at Zeppo.  Yikes, it alone ran more than 1,500 words!  Had I once again bitten off more than I could chew?  I have to admit, I was nervous trying to cram so much fun into so few words.  (So why, you're thinking, am I wasting so many with this drivel?  Well …)  Buffy’s a lot of fun.  More than anything else, it’s great fun, and we as fans get to enjoy it over and over again (without it ever feeling old;  probably the great compliment to Whedon & Co). 
I started watching from the very first ep, and by Season 2 my then-wife and I hosted every Tuesday night so friends could watch together.  (I actually miss yelling “It’s on!” and wax lyrical on that in a Dollhouse article I did.)  Those get-togethers (especially by Season 4 when, along with Angel, it became a two-hour event) greeeeew;  so much so that a couple people started staying home to watch because our viewings were getting a little rowdy.  “I can’t hear!”  “Wait, what just happened?”  (There was no DVR back then.)  To that end, my dear friend Andy Gattuso wrote this up (I kid you not, it was taped to the outside of the front door every Tuesday night) --

                  Frankly I was surprised I still had it.  And I apologize for its crudeness.  I even blocked out a bit.  We were in our early twenties then;  oof, it was back when I still smoked.  (Another dear friend of mine, Anne Mialaret, one of the regulars, actually stood out there until the first commercial break.  Now that’s a fan!)

Now, if you’ve continued reading this far, I know you’re asking, “Why is he wasting all this time on this?”  Because the show is fun.  Because we as fans enjoy talking about the fun we’ve had watching it as much as the show itself.  Because, as consistently good as it is, and the longevity with which it will continue, we’ll continue having fun with it.  So thanks, Andy and Anne.  All fans deserve a few words before we begin.
Speaking of, I better do so.  Begin.  And so, once again, the camera pushes in on me staring wide-eyed at my laptop, furiously typing away and –
                   Opening Credits.

The Initiative
w Doug Petrie
d James A. Contner

I’ve always thought that Season Four works really well – certainly better – the second time you see it.  I remember enjoying it as it aired but there’s definitely a change in the air.  We no longer have The Library as headquarters.  Buffy isn’t living at home.  Angel is gone.  By the time of this Ep, Oz has just left.  Everybody’s changing.  And, in typical Whedon & Co fashion, the first third of the season are pretty much stand-alones, only teasing with The Big Bad before finally revealing it.  We’ve been poked by The Commandos, but now we’re hit head on.  Not to mention the good-looking All-American who might be a new love interest for Buffy is one of them?  Indeed, lots of change in the air.
            In fact, Riley is the best example of Season Four working better the second time around.  For three years we fell in love with Buffy and Angel right along with them.  [i]  So, yes, it took a lot of time for me to get on the Riley bandwagon.  Years and multiple DVD viewings later.  Now I do like him.  But then?  No, The Change wasn’t all that comfortable.
            Which was most likely Whedon & Co’s plan, and one of the things I think makes Buffy work through seven seasons.  While – as I mentioned in the previous three-Ep write-up – they never wrote against Character (key in a good show) they do love to shake things up.  And that's where we are in Season 4 --  the first out of the gate, The Freshman, punches us with it --  and it's where we live from Initiative forward.
            It’s interesting that it rests on Doug Petrie to make the turn.  He wrote Bad Girls which is Season 3’s turn, and here he is again, revealing for us The Initiative as Big Bad.[ii]  (There's also a quick aside I need to mention, something I first heard from Scooby Scholar Elizabeth Rambo though even she said it wasn't originally hers:  that each Season's Episode 7 is significant, of which this is Season 4's.  Take a look at each Season's Ep 7.  What do you think of that theory?)  [iii]
            While I prefer my Villains to be a bit more quippy (The Mayor remains my favorite) [iv], certainly the idea of a Government-run Anti-Demon Conglomerate was inevitable.  Weren't we bound to ask, “Wouldn’t The Government have a hand in this by now?”  After all, we see rumblings as far back as Season 1’s Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight.  Frankly, that Whedon & Co handle it as well as Season 4 plays out deserves kudos.[v]  
           Remember, we’re in The Change.

                                                                                                # # # 

[i] I’m getting ahead of myself, but Pangs begins the two-part crossover with the Angel ep I Will Remember You which only solidified their relationship for us long-viewing fans even after he’d left.
[ii] Sort of as, of course, David Fury’s The I In Team will reveal Adam, the personification of The Initiative as Big Bad.
[iii] Cue Giles singing in Once More With Feeling.
[iv] And I love Glory just as much for her quippy over-theatricality.
[v] Especially considering the Penultimate and then Finale.

03 May, 2011

The Great Buffy Rewatch: Consequences


                                      I won't give Ms. Noxon nearly enough credit in this Commentary, though she very much deserves it.  Suffice to say her great script drives the roller coaster.  While Bad Girls is the first rush down, Consequences is the first turn, the bare settling, the chug back up the track.  It’s a breather, but only a short one, giving us just enough time to comprehend what’s happened;  the resetting of a timebomb, threatening us with what we realize was there all along.  And we still have to face.

w Marti Noxon
d Michael Gershman

              Did you just come off reading my piece on Bad Girls?  Both episodes are really a two-parter, so let’s get right back into it.  Faith left us with, “I don’t care” so that’s where we’ll start.  (Oh those walls of hers!)  Faith herself doesn’t believe she doesn’t care, and Buffy knows it;  but, as Milton wrote some four hundred years ago, “Long is the way and hard that out of hell leads up to light.”  Buffy, as our hero, can’t shake what’s happened, as her dream personifies:  she’s drowning in it.  She knows how quickly Faith is falling;  more importantly, were those the walls she herself built, how quickly she’d be dragged down with her.
As I began the Zeppo Commentary with how much I love What If episodes, the last half of Season 3 is something of a big What If, isn’t it?
What if The Slayer was bad?
As Bad Girls gave us the setup, Consequences is the payoff.  And it’s a dark one.  Not just for Faith (natch) but for Buffy too.  Because Faith is the personification of Buffy’s Dark Side.  So, really, we’re getting to see the shadow.
Magnifying that idea specifically, there are two big scenes in this episode.  For nearly three seasons, we’ve had glimpses of it -- certainly Slayer Vs Buffy-As-Normal-Girl, but also Slayer Vs Slayer (the latter as far back as When She Was Bad) -- but now that Buffy’s inner demons are personified in Faith, we get to hear those thoughts.  The first big is in the street –

Buffy. I'm not going to "see" anything... I missed the mark
last night. And I'm sorry about the guy, really. But it happens.
Anyway - how many people do you think we've saved by
now? Thousands? And didn't you stop the world from ending?
In my book, that puts you and me firmly in the plus column.

We help people. That doesn't mean we can do whatever we want -

Why not? This guy I off’d was no Ghandi. We just saw he was
mixed up in dirty dealing.

Maybe. But what if he was coming to us for help?

What if he was? You're still not looking at the big picture, B.
Something made us different. We're warriors. We were built
to kill -

To kill demons. But we don't get to pass judgement on people,
like we're better than everybody else-

We are better.
(this stops Buffy)
That's right. Better. People need us to survive. In the balance?
Nobody's gonna cry over some random bystander who got caught
in the crossfire.

Buffy looks stricken. Finally-

I am.

Faith just looks at her. Shakes her head.

Your loss.

This is key because most likely Buffy has had this exact … if not conversation with herself, the thought has to have crossed her mind.[i]  It’s first personified in Bad Girls' “Want Take Have” then magnified here.  Indeed, Buffy and Faith are "better," in a sense:  stronger, faster.  The difference, of course, is Buffy chooses to use her powers to help people. 
The second big is on the docks at the end.

What bugs you is you know I'm right. You know in your gut.
We don't need the law. We are the law.


Faith moves in closer. Sees that she's getting to her.

Yes. You know exactly what I'm about. Because you have it
in you, too.

No. You're sick, Faith.

I've seen it, B. You've got the lust. And I'm not just talking about
screwing vampires -

Don't bring him into this.

It was good, wasn't it? The sex? The danger? Bet a part of you
even dug him when he went psycho -

No -

See, you need me to tow the line because you're afraid you'll go
over it, aren't you, B? You can't handle watching me living my
own way and having a blast because it tempts you. You know it
could be you-

That's it. Something snaps in Buffy. She rears back and POPS Faith a good one. Faith falls back, but she's smiling as she puts a hand to her bleeding mouth.

There's my girl...

Nail on the head.
Because Faith has a point.  This is what every Slayer must fight internally.  And now these inner demons are personified in Faith.  Though, interestingly, Buffy hits first.  Pushed to it, sure, but “her own way,” as Faith taunts her, pushes back.  And can you blame her?  They’ve been verbally dueling a while now, so one of them was bound to take it to the next level.  But that it’s Buffy who first resorts to the physical?  Well, even Luke in Jedi, hearing Vader will go after Leia, loses it.  And, dear readers, don’t ever get between Buffy and Angel.  I wrote a Spec for Smallville many years ago (that show’s Season 2) where Clark and Random Bad Guy are facing off and Random Bad asks him, “Everything you can do and you choose to help these people?  Why?!”  And Clark says, “Because I can.”  Indeed:  Buffy can.  And, no matter what she might be going through, no matter what she might have to give up, consistently chooses to.
But is Faith truly lost?
For me, there are three key moments where Faith’s conscience kicks in, and she, however fleetingly, allows a crack in the wall.  The first, and I think most significant, is in Bad Girls where, after killing The Deputy Mayor, she returns to the scene to view it, let it sink in.  (This is probably the turning point, where she decides to let the walls build.)  The second is in this episode when she and Buffy are snooping around The Mayor’s office and there’s this –


A shot of the Deputy Mayor with the Mayor at on official function of some kind.  The Deputy Mayor is smiling, proud.

                                    He came out of nowhere.

                                    I know.

At this Faith’s eyes go cold and she returns to the search.

                                    Whatever.  I’m not looking to hug and cry and learn and grow.
                                    I’m just saying it went down quick, is all.

Buffy, a little stung, decides to let it go.

More letting it sink in – and no pun intended considering how our episode began – it’s what I was saying about Faith choosing to go down this path.  Even here, Buffy doesn’t gloat or pry or do anything but agree with her.  And Faith knows it.  Catches herself and – “shields up!” – can’t buy that there’s any way out besides that which her past allows:  no-mother, no-Giles, no-friends. 
The third, and fairly most obvious moment is in the end fight where Trick is about to dine on Buffy and Faith stakes him, saving her.  Faith could have escaped, let it happen – we see her pause – but instead she chooses to do the right thing and save our hero.  There is an episode coming up named – I’m just naming it here, that’s not a spoiler, right? – Choices.  I often thought that one of this two-parter should be called that, given how many happen in them.  But there are certainly consequences to be faced, and fair enough.
The biggest of which (sigh) is Willow.  I’ve often said that no two actresses working today cry better than Gillian Anderson and Alyson Hannigan.  Our dear Willow has had to cry so many times in seven seasons, but one of the real hit-homes is in this episode, when she hears of Xander having sex with – losing his virginity to – Faith (and this, remember, two episodes later).  It’s setup by a comical moment, the double “Oh” between Buffy and Giles, as they realize what’s happened, undercut by the solemn, “I don’t need to say it” Willow gives;  she having realized it first.  And then the cut-to her crying in the bathroom.  Ugh.  Did I mention the sigh? [ii]
The other big consequence is, after the same significant scene, the simple cut-to Xander laying on the stairs of the library thinking about what’s happened.  Not that he’s slept with Faith, not that he’s lost his virginity, but that Willow now knows, two episodes (how long in episode time?) later.  They talk every night, so two weeks?  Willow, his best friend since they were six, who he knows has been in love with him for as long (pre Oz), who he knows must have cried after hearing the news.  Once again, with as big a switch-up as Whedon & Co throw at us with turning Faith, and the consequences that births, it’s the simple everyday relationship issues that hit home the hardest.  
                     And work the best. 
                     I mentioned the sigh, right?
As remiss as I would have been not to mention Wesley’s introduction in Bad Girls, I have to mention his key moment in this episode.  Upon learning of Faith’s indiscretion, he takes it upon himself to SWAT Team her back to The Council.[iii]  Whereas so far in these two episodes we’ve only seen him as the brainy bumbler, this gives him a moment of substance, some grounding to believe that there’s more to him than just the comedy.  As well rounded as all the characters are in the Whedonverse, so indeed is Our New Watcher.[iv]
And last but not least, from a production standpoint, I have to mention the great Michael Gershman who directed this episode.  This is his second Directed By episode – after Season 2’s Passion (another Best Of The Series) and we’ll see him direct next on Season 4’s A New Man – and I think he does a wonderful job.  You know his name as he’s been Buffy’s Cinematographer (and will be for eighty-some episodes);  and, as Mr. Pateman pointed out so well in his first Commentary of our Great Buffy Rewatch, successfully helped establish the look of the show. 
Couple of things, if I may.
First, I found it interesting in Gershman’s DVD Commentary of this episode that there were never storyboards for the show.  An aside, really, but I found it interesting. 
                       Secondly, please note the three long camera moves in this ep:  through the crime scene to Angel looking on;  following Angel out of the mansion into the courtyard to see Buffy;  and off Giles’ office to Wesley listening in.  Why significant?  Because most decisions made on any TV Show have something to do with time.  The less time spent on something generally means less money spent (all the way to the Network Cut of a show, as they want to cram as much Advertising in as possible).  For a myriad of reasons for another longer article, you just don’t see long shots like this in a TV Show;  one of the reasons being how long it takes to light enough Set for that long a shot.  But as Gershman was the Cinematographer on the show – knew the sets and what it took to light them – he could plan-for and get-away-with them as Director.  Again, perhaps an aside, but I find it interesting.
As Ms. Stuller wrote so well in the Season 1 Prophecy Girl Commentary about The Hero’s Journey:  redemption resolves.  Unfortunately, as we see in this episode’s final scene, Faith chooses to continue down the dark path, turning herself over to The Mayor;  not in any heroic sacrifice, but, in a sense, turning over her very soul.  Does she really feel that alone?  Are her walls that fully built?  The roller coaster rushes on, redemption left to wait, as it seems Milton’s hard way into light is indeed still a long one before us all.

                                                                                 # # #

[i] Not to mention, um, “Death is your gift,” anyone?
[ii]  There's a similar --  and just as powerful --  moment for Inara in the Firefly episode Heart Of Gold.
[iii] Foreshadowing the Council “Wetworks” Team in Season 4’s Who Are You?
[iv] I know I mentioned this before, but oh the arc he’ll continue on, in the remaining episodes of this season and especially Angel.  I wonder how long Whedon & Co initially planned to keep him around, considering he’s gone from Sunnydale in Season 4 and doesn’t show up in L.A. (on Angel) until that show’s tenth episode, Parting Gifts.  In any event, I’m glad he returns, because he is our dear Wesley.